The Laokang apps have gained speaking tests since my original reviews of the Pinyin Test and Tone Test. This actually happened quite a while ago and I apologize to the developer for my slowness in reporting on the added feature. But they are a great way to end our back-to-school series of free or low-cost iOS apps.
The speaking test in the Pinyin Test presents you with sets of three syllables, with no tone indications. You record yourself pronouncing each set of syllables with any tones that you want (the test is just of your pronunciation of the syllables). A complete test comprises 26 such sets.
The speaking test in the Tone Test presents you with pairs of tones. You can say any two syllables with the given tones. It might be simplest to use “ma” in the way that the listening version of the Tone Test does. A complete test comprises 20 pairs.
Once you finish recording, you need someone to “grade” you. You can grade yourself or have someone else, like a teacher or classmate, do it. The person needs to have some knowledge of Mandarin pronunciation and either pinyin or tones, depending on the test. Whoever is serving as the grader listens to your recordings and types the pinyin (or indicates the tone) for what (s)he hears. If your pronunciation is correct, the grader should be able to transcribe it accurately in pinyin (or recognize the tone). Being the grader is essentially like taking the listening test in each of the apps (see my earlier reviews for more about the listening tests for pinyin and tones).
Grading yourself might not be a good idea in some circumstances. For example, if you are one of those beginning students who pronounces wo as “whoa,” you may well also to type wo when you hear yourself say “whoa.” So you would get graded as correct, even though your pronunciation was not. With tones, you might be able to pronounce them, but if you can’t recognize them, you won’t be an accurate grader. Ideally, the grader should be a teacher, a tutor, or a friend with better Chinese than you.There are a couple of drawbacks to the speaking tests:
- The grading has to be done on the same device on which the test was taken. There is no way to send a test to another person’s device for grading. For example, students cannot record at home and then send their tests to a teacher.
- The app can only store one test at a time. I had thought that if you were a teacher, you could maybe have a group of students all record tests onto your iOS device and you could grade them later, but that is not possible.
These drawbacks limit the scenarios in which you can use the speaking tests, but, of course, students in traditional (non-distance) programs should have no trouble meeting in person. As a teacher, if you have an entirely iOS-equipped class, students could pair off in class, each take the test and then swap to grade.
And if you find that your tone recognition really needs work, check out the LaoKang Tone Trainer (reviewed here).